New Book Releases for OSX
It took about a month or so for the latest books on Panther to become available. They started arriving in my mailbox in January. This is an improvement on previous versions of OSX, partly because a lot of the groundwork has been done with those earlier versions. That is not to say that these books are copies of what has been published already. There are, of course, some repeated concepts, but -- particularly with Panther -- there have been so many changes that it almost felt like a new operating system in the first few days.
One of the most consistent series of books on OSX is the O'Reilly/Pogue "Missing Manual" series. The books cover far more than just the operating system. That consistency makes this my favourite for getting into OSX for first time users; and even for those who have been using Macs for several years.
With the number of claimed changes or additions to the operating system, the book is noticably larger. I placed it on the bookshelf in my office and it was easy to see that it was much thicker. Size does not always equate to quality, of course.
Some of the newer ideas covered include "exposé", Virtual private networks (VPN), and the use of the scripting tool -- Apple has been listening to users of pre-OSX systems. There is also some useful information on security aspects that are built-in to Panther. Although some of these have been available for a while, the documentation has not always been clear or easily available.
All of the familiar technologies and applications are explained, including an entry to Unix use in OSX. Networking and Internet-use are well documented as far as the ordinary user are concerned.
With over 750 pages, this is not a bedtime book and is best used for reference, although it is certainly readable. I sometimes work through an entire chapter to get a feel for the technology explained, then go back and concentrate on the finer points. Some text books leave my head spinning, while "The Missing Manual" is not hard to absorb.
With the several sections and chapters, there is an excellent index at the back and six appendices: installation and troubleshooting; "Where did it go" (Mac and Windows); resources; and finally a valuable list of keystrokes.
If you are limited to one book, The Missing Manual is the one that will best assist entry into the understanding of this strong and secure operating system.
Running Mac OSX Panther, is not for the novice. It starts with the evolution of OSX and this sets the stage for what is to come. I think it is important for users to remember that this is not a development of earlier Mac systems but a development of Unix made to work like Mac.
James Duncan Davidson presumes that the reader has plenty of experience with computers -- not simply Macs. From an early stage in the book he is working with the Unix commands and expects the reader to be aware of what the implications are.
In some ways this book is positioned between the Missing Manual series (above) and the far more detailed Mac OSX in a Nutshell which was reviewed here some months ago (7 May 2003). Two years ago I would have cried out for such a book, now some of the information is available from a number of resources. As such it has a slightly decreased value but may be considered as a stepping stone: if it were me, I would buy all three, although at $39.95 this is a touch dear.
While the Missing Manual is aimed at first time or home users, the value of this book to its target audience of power users, or even system administrators (if any here are using OSX), is not to be downplayed. "OSX in a Nutshell" works you hard, while "Running Mac OSX Panther" takes you by the hand, but does expect you to be keen enough to learn.
Learning Unix for Mac OSX Panther is a useful book. Slightly smaller than the other two reviewed here, it obviously dispenses with the histories and introductions, presuming that the reader is familiar with OSX, and has some knowledge of Unix.
It is not all command line working, however, alternating between the graphical user interface and the Unix, to help the reader get the best out of the operating system's foundations.
As well as the command line, there are examinations of several vintage applications such as emacs, vi, Pico, and (still used in some quarters) the mailer, Pine.
The book is about learning the Unix, so someone with a good Unix knowledge already might find the information a little underpowered. Nevertheless, there are differences between using Unix with Panther and, say, Irix on the Silicon Graphics machines, or the various flavours of Linux now available. (O'Reilly also have a thin volume on basic Unix which I have found useful for a couple of years.)
What I found most valuable -- Pogue misses this, but not Davidson -- is a section on installing the X11 window system. This is essential for running Unix applications such as Open Office.
With X11, the book runs through not only command line work -- part of the Unix way of life, I suppose -- but looks at the installation and use of many utilities over and above Open Office, particularly Gimp -- a free replacement for Adobe Photoshop, if you are brave enough.
Note: other details of these books, including sample chapters, may viewed at O'Reilly's own website.
For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.
eXtensions: year One
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